International school fees rising steadily

China, Switzerland and Belgium top the list of most expensive countries for international education.

ExpatFinder.com has released the results of its annual worldwide survey of international school fees. The study examines the increasing financial burden of premium education for children of expat parents, and calls for companies to re-evaluate their global mobility programmes to better support relocating families.The ExpatFinder International School Fee Survey 2016, designed to provide guidance on navigating cost challenges relating to global relocation, bases its ranking on a comprehensive market survey of 707 international schools across 98 countries. The annual survey also captures sentiments around international school fees to not only highlight challenges for expats, but also opportunities for companies to remain attractive to foreign talents.Sébastien Deschamps, CEO and Founder of ExpatFinder.com, says, “We still see a trend of expat families looking for growth opportunities offshore given challenges in the domestic environment. However, according to our survey findings, international school fees are steadily rising, particularly in markets that are popular destinations with expats.

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“The rising cost of international education, coupled with an ongoing trend of employers replacing traditional expat packages with local contracts, increases the financial burden on expats considerably. While employers must be mindful of the financial pressure that relocating a family and moving children to international schools can place on expats, globally mobile employees must also take into account those education costs and taxes as early as possible in their salary negotiations. This is particularly true when the employer uses the host country local salary as a benchmark without including additional benefits such as an allowance for international school fees and boarding.“It is not surprising, therefore, to see expat parents rethinking their entire approach to their children’s education. For example, we see more and more parents considering options such as home schooling or enrolling their children in local schools that offer internationally recognised curriculum. Some have also opted for private tutors that provide supplementary native language lessons in lieu of costly international education.”

Across the globe

Based on the median of the 6th grade tuition fees per country, China (US$36,400 per annum), Switzerland (US$28,300 per annum) and Belgium (US$27,800 per annum) come out tops as the most expensive countries for international education.Following closely behind with fees above US$20,000 per annum, these countries make the rest of the top 10 out of 98 countries (in descending order): United Kingdom, Hong Kong, United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Austria and Australia.“We shifted both our children to an international school so they can learn French, our mother tongue. However, the high cost of education has in turn changed the way we budget for our lifestyle. We now limit ourselves on spending much more than we did in our home country. Paying for education and extra-curricular activities now takes up the largest part of our monthly budget,” said Helene Denaiffe, a French expat residing in Singapore.Among the 707 international schools surveyed, annual tuition fees fluctuate from as high as US$48,170 in Switzerland’s Institut Le Rosey, to as low as US$860 in Colombia’s Colegio Anglo-Colombiano.

Short-term assignments

“Over the past few years, given price inflation, education costs have become more noticeable as a line-item in the total assignment cost. We encourage our Destination Provider to help parents identify schools that is best suited to the child, as factors may depend on the child’s personality, learning styles and cultural sensitivities. Often, we find parents of younger children favour smaller and more intimate schools that are not necessarily the most expensive, but it depends on the child and how best to cater for their education needs. Given the rising costs of education and ability to access top schools in certain locations, we are noticing an increasing trend of short-term international assignments and commuting assignments where children remain in the home location,” shared Stephen Park, Head of Global Mobility at Fonterra.“Some cities, such as Hong Kong, are particularly challenging for our mobility programmes. At times, it is competitive to get children into good schools and I imagine some employees may turn down assignments in Hong Kong for the sake of their children's future. It just shows how important education assistance has become inside mobility programmes.”

Price trends

Further, ExpatFinder International School Fee Survey identifies several price trends that companies should consider when deriving expatriate pay and benefits packages:
  1. Up, up and away
International school tuition fees in 2016 have increased by 3.43 per cent from 2015. For long-term global assignments, companies should take this into account as a form of recurring price inflation.
  1. Mind the gap
The following countries have the highest price variance between the most expensive and most affordable schools (in descending order): Switzerland, the United States, Spain, France, Sweden. This suggests that it may not be accurate to benchmark education costs through a random selection of schools in these countries.
  1. Nationality matters, even for schools
In general, American schools’ 6th grade tuition fees rank most expensive and costs an average of US$17,095 per annum. This is followed closely by British, Canadian, French and German schools. Spanish schools have emerged as the most affordable, standing at only US$6,320 per annum.
  1. Location, location, location
When comparing the average tuition fees of international schools located in capital cities with those in secondary cities, prices for the former can be up to five times more expensive.
  1. Beware of hidden costs
There are typically three types of mandatory costs listed in international school enrolment: admission, registration and application fees. However, these are not representative of the average expat parent’s international education expenses. Other incidental costs include meals, uniforms, material or books, transport, examinations, extra-curricular activities, elective subjects and boarding.“The cost of international schooling continues to be a major challenge for both expatriates and HR departments trying to create competitive yet cost-effective benefits programmes. Expats are often faced with no choice but to pay expensive schooling fees as it becomes increasingly more difficult or impractical in many countries to enroll foreign children into the local education system. With the move towards more localised assignment terms, HR needs to develop creative and flexible packages that assist with this additional financial burden (typically not factored into local competitive pay scales). By removing this barrier and creating a consistent and fair policy, organisations can continue to attract and ensure the mobility of their top talent,” advised Sean Collins, Managing Partner at Talent Mobility Search.

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